He Filtered it, Felt It & I give Him Glory

Juanita Everman:   I met Juanita soon after moving to Kentucky.  She was an energetic women with a push to help those who struggle, like none I had ever witnessed.  Quickly after is when she was told of her cancer and started treatments.  We’d have private lunches at her home during the day and pray and talk and pray and talk.  This was a time that we became real with each other.  We have very similar stories of struggle and because of Jesus we also have very similar stories of victory.  I’ve been blessed to call her friend and look forward to many more years of praying and talking.

IMG_4501This is my God story.  How He didn’t give up on me and how He has carried me through my trails to see the joy on the other side.

I knew of Jesus and went to church some as a child.  By the time I was in elementary school we quit going to church.  I wouldn’t seek Jesus until I was so desperate and hopeless in my life.  I became a Christ follower at 43.

His word says in Romans 5:3 – 5 says Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character;character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom has given us.  I love this verse – it tells me that life is not going to be all roses when we serve Him.  It tells me we will have troubles and suffering, but – look what we gain HOPE AND JOY.

My life has been full of suffering, some from my own choices and some from life. I was sexually abuse as a child.  It was hard to have safe feelings in intimate relationships.  I had no self-worth and I was afraid to express my feelings and stayed in harmful relationships to long.  I have been married three times and divorced twice. My husband and I are celebrating 27 years of marriage and 21 years of sobriety.

Before turning my life over to Jesus I lived in the world.  I took everything it had to offer and lived my life taking chance after chance.  I had so many troubles and I had no idea how to fix them.  This life was of my own doing.  I had to suffer the consequences of my actions.  That was my choice, my fault.

How do you keep on living and have hope when you’ve just been told you have cancer? I thought I was doing every thing right.  I was living for Christ.  Giving my all and now what? My first diagnosis was in 2013. 172 I went into surgery for a fibroid tumor and when I woke up I was told I had stage 2a Ovarian Cancer.  The next few months were very hard.  I tried to keep my focus on positive things.  The chemo treatments made me so weak and sick I didn’t think I could continue them.  And then I would think of my husband and children how could I leave them.  How could I not do everything I can to get well.  It was hard not to get in that dark place where I would give up.  Its hard to describe the feeling of just wanting it to be over, not wanting to be so sick.  But yet not wanting to give up.  I only went out to go to church and that was not that often.

It was because of God’s Word and my sisters and brothers in Christ that I was able at stay positive and make it through this trail.  I kept asking God what I was to do or to learn.  I realized all the pain and suffering He had gone through for me – for us all.  That no matter what I went through He had already been there.  He knew what I would go through and He was there to comfort me and give me the strength and hope to get through it.  I started serving at Celebrate Recovery as soon as I could and going into the jail to do CR Inside.

In January 2017 my cancer had returned.  There was one spot and the only way to reach it was surgery.  I was heart broken.  Why again?  I had all the fears and doubts again.  The sinking lost feeling of dying.  But I prayed Your will not mine.  I was ready.  I didn’t think after the first time that I would face it again.  After surgery I made the decision not to go through chemo again.  It was one spot.  I would leave it up to my Heavenly Father.  I am seeing a holistic doctor and I have changed the whole way of take care of myself.  This is very hard also.  Especially when it seems everything is geared around food!!  I take my own food a lot or just eat at home.  I have tried so many times to lose weight only to fail.  I have lost so much weight – I didn’t even notice because my focus was on living a healthy life and not my weight.  I wanted to live for Christ and my family.

September 2017 I had a CT scan come back with a spot on my lung.  I prayed and prayed.  I had a PET scan to see if anything was there.  This was just before my youngest daughters wedding and also the Rally4Recovery.  I had to stay busy.  I couldn’t think about what the news would be.  I was ready to give up.  I had fought all I could fight.  If it was back – I would let God guide me on what steps to take.  I started to think about the things I needed to get in order.  What I had to take care of so I would be prepared.  But with in few seconds of feeling like giving I heard a small voice.  YOU CAN’T GIVE UP! YOU HAVE TO MUCH TO DO!!

The spot did not show up on the PET scan.  I was so grateful to God.  I choose not to have the following CT and PET scans three months later.  My blood work was good and I decided I would except that as answer that everything is ok for now.  God is so good.  God is so good.  I listened again to that small voice that I heard in 2013 to have the pain checked out.

I listened and I didn’t give up!   I was working on a non-profit organization with a friend.  An organization that carries out recovery-focused community education and outreach programs, and peer-based recovery support services.  It is in the process of starting.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to serve those in need.

IMG_4704I choose today to take each trail as a way to look at what is going on in my life and how can I direct it back to Jesus.  He has already filtered it, He has felted it.  Now I have to use it to glorify my Lord and Savior!  God never waste a hurt.

Lord, I thank You for my friend.  I ask that You will continue to bless her life as she continues to give You glory.  I pray for those around her that are influenced by her gentle and loving spirit.  Amen!

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But I trust YOU

IMG_3385Tamara Barron:  Known to me as “Tami”.  I’m so proud of her!  I met her the 1st night she came to Celebrate Recovery and oh, what a difference from then to now.  The smile on her face today can light up a room but there was no smile then.  We have had lunch, talked life and walked (figuratively) a long path of healing together and I can’t say enough about her.  She’s energetic and creative, determined and confident but most of all she now understands how much God loves her and that is making her path more joyful.  Excited to see where HE takes her.

I was born on December the 29th, 1970 in Lexington, KY.  My mother was a house wife and my father was an architect for a large firm.  At six years old, I started having petit mal seizures, and at nine years old, I was diagnosed with scoliosis, and started having severe anxiety.     Junior high and high school were kind of a blur to me.  I tested into the first advanced placement program in Lexington, but did not fit in very well with the other students.  By the time I was in ninth grade, I had alienated myself so bad from everyone that I became depressed and saw no joy in life at all.  I was 15 when I first contemplated suicide.

In high school, I began learning about the occult, Satanism, and witchcraft.  I felt powerful over my situations by scaring people, and became obsessed with vampirism, and horror movies.      I was a promising classical pianist, and an artist, but wasted a lot of time experimenting with witchcraft, drugs, and alcohol. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  Deep down inside, I knew that the way I had been living was wrong, but my fascination with the occult began to control my life.  I became scared to even leave my room, and I was committed to a psychiatric ward when I was 18.  I dedicated my life to God during this time and began to attend church.

I met my first true love shortly after leaving the psychiatric ward.  He seemed like a very nice guy, but I quickly put my relationship with him before God.  After only a few months into our relationship, however, he was arrested and sent away.  I fell into a deep depression, and when it came time to start college, I couldn’t do it.

I did eventually go to college, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and became a lab manager despite being formerly diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy in 1996.  During this time period, I met and married my first husband.  He was my dream guy; a hard rock guitar player who was witty, fun, and very handy with power tools.  Our relationship was tumultuous, however, and maintaining a relationship with God become impossible.  I gave God up to make my atheist husband happy.  This was the beginning of my codependency.

In the fall of 2001, we purchased a Queen Anne Victorian house built in 1898.  We worked every weekend for several years trying to restore our dream home.  In 2006, tired and weary from struggling to make ends meet, we started drinking every night to “take the edge off”.  It wasn’t long before the alcohol started causing many nights of yelling at one another like children.  But, I told myself everything was fine.

In 2009, my mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.  My drinking got worse during this time, and it was a common occurrence for me to drink ¾’s of a bottle of wine before bed. My boss and my husband were both verbally abusive, and I felt powerless in my situation.  If God loved me, why did he make me suffer?  So I decided He didn’t exist, and embraced atheism.

I finally left my job of 13 years in the spring of 2010 to help care for my mother, and my husband and I fought nonstop about it.  With her death in 2011, I was just defeated.  I drank until I passed out every night. I tried to be the best house wife I knew how, taking all the responsibilities around the house.  I began writing my first novel, and also created many original works of art which I sold in local art fairs.  I was trying, but it wasn’t enough for my husband.  I was lonely, sad, and felt unloved.  In fact, I really didn’t know what being loved felt like.

My husband grew more distant over time.  One night in late 2014, I confronted him about it.  We broke out into an alcohol-induced argument.  After that night, he started going to bars at random, telling me I had to stay at home.  Finally, after a month of this, he said he was done with our marriage.  I went to my sister’s house to calm down, and when I returned the following morning he was gone.

I sank to floor, and it finally hit me that my whole life as I knew it, was over.  My job had failed, my husband had left, and without income, I would lose the house I worked so hard to fix up.  I shook uncontrollably.  The divorce papers came in the mail, and I was being force to sell the house and split the money with him.  I was in such shock that I couldn’t eat, sleep, or move and all I did was sit in a chair all day and drink and cry.  I attempted to go back to work, but soon realized I couldn’t maintain a job and drink what I needed to drink to keep from shaking. I wanted to die.  I would sit in the dark with my wine glass, and contemplate suicide.

One morning, I staggered into CVS to purchase some more wine, and when I took it to the counter, I broke down crying and told the lady that I didn’t want to drink anymore but I didn’t know how to stop.  She asked if she could pray with me.   So there we were, in public, a nice lady and very broken down, atheist woman, praying to God for healing.  She then told me about Celebrate Recovery, a faith based twelve step program.       IMG_0805

I continued drinking for a year, but in the Fall of 2015, I was at rock bottom. I made an appointment to detox, and found out that I was one month form cirrhosis.  Without the alcohol, the pain that I had numbed for so long hit me hard.  I knew I could not do this alone, and decided to go to Celebrate Recovery.

The first night I went in, I couldn’t believe all of the people there that were just like me.  Then I heard the first step for the first time.  Step one states, “We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors and that our lives have become unmanageable.”  At 92 pounds, 2 packs of cigarettes, and two bottles of wine a day, it was a miracle I was sitting there.  But that word powerless… All I wanted was power to control my situations, to only come in here and hear that I was powerless?  But then I heard step 2 which reads, “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

The one thing I learned about recovery is that it hurt, it wasn’t easy.  I suffered with horrible anxiety and a hole in my heart left from my ex.  But the more I went to the meetings, the better I felt.  I joined a step study, and I admit, the first time I opened my bible, I cried so hard the pages were wet.  My pride was hurt.  But Jesus had the patience to wait while I swallowed my pride, and slowly allowed him to fill that painful hole in my heart.  He started by first whispering in my ear John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes unto the father except through me.”  I realized that I had to let my past go and accept Christ back into my life.

I began listening to contemporary Christian music.  It calmed me, and the dark, sad songs in my head were replaced with songs of inspiration, and undying love that Jesus showed us on the cross.  I read several devotionals a day, and repeat the serenity prayer when things get tough.  My sponsor, accountability partners, and step study leaders and sisters have been a true blessing to me.  When I feel down, I reach out. God put a new Christian man in my life, and we were married on June 3, 2017.  I have learned that life is about choices. I choose to remain sober.  God cannot make me do it, but he can help me make a daily commitment to turn my will over to Him.    I still struggle with anxiety, but when it hits, I remind myself of Mathew 6:34 which states: “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Live one day at a time.”

I thought I was hopeless, and now I am a leader at Celebrate Recovery.  The changes I have made in my life are possible for anyone who turns their life over to Christ.  I know that there is no depth of sorrow or darkness that Jesus Christ cannot reach.  Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”  I have found in all my feelings of powerlessness that the true power comes in just saying, “Lord, I don’t know where I am going or how to get there, but I trust You.” by: Tami

 

Lord…………You are so good.  I’m grateful for the people that you put in my life who encourage me to keep going just by the way they live their lives.  Amen

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Nothing Short of Amazing

Crystal Nickell:  As I sit and tear up while sitting  in a board meeting with Crystal, I know that her story will touch your heart too.  To be around her today, one would think that she has had the posh life.   But as you will hear, it’s hasn’t always been that way.  We all know what is showing on the outside is not always what is happening in reality.  I’m so thankful that I have been able to be apart of her sharing her story.  I’m so grateful that she was willing to stand up for her child when possibly no one else was.  To know her is to love her.

IMG_0834 (1)Recently a question was posed to a small group of women, in which I was a part, “Can you say you are 100% prolife with no reservations?”  My mind drifted back 12 years earlier.  I was sitting alone in a very small, cold office.  I waited for a doctor I had never met to walk in and discuss this life I was currently carrying.  I would have rather been a million different places as to where I was that day.  I was seated on a leather, green couch that made terrible noises if I moved the least bit.  There was a table in front of me and a seat to my right.  The door had only enough room to open.  I’m not sure why I remember these miniscule details.  Maybe I was trying to keep my mind off why I was even there.

My husband and I were married in October 1997.   In June 2000 we had our first bundle of joy.  Our beautiful daughter came into this world and turned ours upside down.  We never knew how much love you could possibly have for a child you just met.  We worried over every single detail like stuffy noses, whimpers in the middle of the night and falls that didn’t really amount to anything.  We were definitely the typical first time parents.  And despite our every effort to keep her little forever, she started her senior year of high school just this week as I’m writing this.

In 2004, we found out we were going to have another child.  My husband was self-employed which meant if he didn’t work, he didn’t get paid.  So because we knew the drill, or so we thought, the day of my scheduled ultrasound I decided to go alone.  I promised to call him and reveal the gender as soon as I could.  He had never said the words aloud, but I knew he was hoping for a baby boy.  And I have to say so was I.

IMG_0838I arrived at my appointment and once called back, the radiologist went to work.  I heard the heartbeat and looked at the fuzzy image on the screen.  She told me very soon the gender was male and I couldn’t wait to call my husband and give him the exciting news.  She then asked me to have a seat in the waiting room.  I can remember sitting there looking at the pictures of my precious baby boy anticipating his delivery.  It wasn’t long until my name was called again.  This time my ob-gyn was waiting for me in the room I had just been in minutes earlier.  He told me the radiologist had spotted something on my baby and he had confirmed it was a cyst on his brain.  He went on to say a lot of doctor terms hard for me to understand, but it all came down to my son had a possibility of being born with a birth defect.  The joy I had felt vanished and replaced with fear of the unknown.  I had opted against, just like I had with my daughter’s pregnancy, to have an amniocentesis testing early in the pregnancy.  I now wondered if the results from that would’ve warned me for this type of news.  Before I left, he made me an appointment with another office that could take more in-depth pictures and be able to describe fully our situation.

I remember getting in the car and just crying out to God.  This was not the news I wanted to call and discuss with my husband over the phone.  My mind just couldn’t embrace everything I had been told, but it was getting late and I knew he would just end up calling me soon.   I dialed his number and began to weep.  Heaving between fragmented sentences, I finally shared the news.

IMG_0844The appointment my ob-gyn had made for me was only a week later, but the days before dragged on what seemed like forever.  This time my husband wasn’t going to let me go without him.  For as much as I can remember about this time in our lives, there is much I forget and probably for good reasons.  We arrived at this new office and got into a huge argument as we were parking.  I have no idea today what it was over, but I assume all the fears and apprehension we both had felt over the past week had surfaced and I wouldn’t allow him to go back with me when my name was called.  Being stubborn and proud are two things the Lord continues to work on in me and I despise I would allow such qualities to show at such a vulnerable time.

Just as a week earlier, I was alone, but now with a new radiologist performing an ultrasound.  She moved the cold device all around my stomach staring at the monitor where we both viewed a little life moving.  Once she finished, I was lead to the small office I described earlier to wait for the doctor.  I was so angry at myself for arguing with my husband and not allowing him to go with me and in general ashamed for acting so foolishly.  I needed and wanted him to hear every detail alongside me.  Finally, a tall, slender man entered the room and immediately began talking.  His words were swift and very precise, “The ultrasound shows a cyst on your baby’s brain.  Under Kentucky law if you want an abortion we have to move fast because of where you are in your pregnancy.”  I sensed the room becoming even smaller than it already was.  Did I really hear him say “abortion and move fast”?  Since I was the only other person in the room I had to answer so I softly replied, “Abortion is not an option for me.”  His eyes never looked away from my chart as he explained I would come back each month to discuss the cyst’s progression.  I walked back to the waiting room to find my husband.  I was able to hold back the tears until we were in our vehicle and I began to tell him every detail.  Month after month we went back to this dreadful place together and would hear there was no change.  In a way this was encouraging because it wasn’t getting bigger, but it wasn’t getting smaller either.  We continued to pray and called on many family and friends to do the same.

The last ultrasound performed was very close to my due date.  I watched the radiologist for any type of different expression, just as I had done at previous visits.  She stepped out of the room not long into our visit and returned with the doctor who then began to stare at the screen with us.  “There’s nothing there”, he said.  I remember wondering if I had been dreaming because he couldn’t have possibly said what I thought I heard.  But the cyst was completely gone.  The feeling that came over me is hard to describe in words.  I felt lighter than a feather, even though my belly was bulging in every direction.  The burden of worrying and wondering had vanished.  God had heard our pleas and completely healed our baby boy just in time for his arrival and I imagine He chuckled at my response of unbelief since for months we had fervently prayed for this very outcome.

Kyle, my second child, was born in May 2005 healthy and weighing close to 10 lbs.  Since then, I often find myself asking the same questions.  What if I had never attended church; What if I had never gone to Sunday school as a small girl and memorized the words to Jesus Loves Me; What if my husband and I had never asked Jesus to live in our hearts years before all these events took place?  Since my life began, God was preparing me for an exact moment where I would choose life for another.

Things tend to come fairly easy for Kyle.  He can walk into a room and instantly create a friendship, good grades and athletic ability come naturally.  His zeal for life is quite evident.  Numerous people have told me, “There’s something special about that kid” and silently, I agree with them.  I know the enemy fought hard by trying to cause doubt, discouragement and bringing up the word “abort” so nonchalantly.  God’s plan for Kyle’s future must be nothing short of amazing.  Just as it is for every life He creates.  I am beyond blessed He chose me to be a mother to both my children.  They have made my life truly amazing.

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For I know the plans I have  for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11

 

 

I thank You Lord for giving us Grace.  I thank You for providing us with truth that will guide us in our walk daily.  I ask You to be with those who are struggling with a pregnancy crisis, whether it is a possible illness, as Crystal’a was or a family crisis.  You love those little ones before they are even formed.  I ask You to protect them.  Amen!

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Rahab life and I am Thankful

Jodi Willoughby: Gentle, sweet spirit.  That is Jodi.  She has come from a far away place and has ended up smack dab in the middle of the arms of Jesus.  And she is thrilled about it and not afraid to tell ya’.  The words that I have been blessed with as she has prayed over me, filled my soul with Joy and Peace.  I’m grateful to call her friend.

18238156_706205722895394_8908235468170939061_oI’ve been a wife for 27 years to my husband, Ted and a mother for 14 years to my son, Luke.

I want to tell you some of my testimony in hopes that it will bless  you and give glory to the Lord. I’m 51 years old and have served the Lord for 26 of them.

I love to read and recently read a book by my friend’s favorite author, Tessa Afshar called “Pearl in the Sand”.  It chronicles the life of Rahab, she was the prostitute who saved the pies in the Old Testament.  Rahab and the woman by the well are women I can identify with.  These women had lives full of bad choices and many sins.  They spent a lot of years living lives that seemed would never amount to much except heartache and regret.  But both of them changed and turned their lives around by accepting Jesus in their heart.

I too made a lot of bad choices when I was young.  Circumstances played a part but I still made the choices that basically shaped my life.

When we are young we don’t realize sometimes that that we can get scars only Jesus can heal.  When I was 15 I lost my father in a tragic accident.  I was on only child and it drastically changed the course of my life.  I filled my youth with bitterness and one bad decision after another.  I lived the life of Rahab and the woman at the well in many ways. I was grasping for anything or anyone who would love me.  During this time I was hurt physically very bad.  I was in the hospital for 3 months and in a coma for 13 days.  I had a great chance of dying.  But God had mercy on me.  I’d like to tell you my life changed right after that, but it didn’t.  I returned to  a life far from God for four more  years.  I sank lower and lower in a pit.  And when it seemed nothing would help me out of it, God sent me another miracle.  Now I have to tell you, I was living in a far off place I’m sure few have heard of.  And then God sent Ted.  Three months after meeting him we married.  Me, the girl no one decent would ever marry, I married one of the most decent men in the world.  I asked him one time, why me?  His exact words were “he saw good in me”. That reminds me of Jesus.  He sees good in all of us.  When I gave my heart to Jesus my eyes were truly opened.  I saw people, all people, and they had great worth.  There is no shame and no sin that God can not take away.  I stand in awe of my Savior who has blessed me beyond what I deserve.  And I am Thankful!  Life is such a gift and it should be lived to make a difference in someone’s life.

So remember, no matter what you, YOU ARE LOVED BEYOND MEASURE!

Ephesians 3:16-21

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Lord I thank you for bringing Jodi in my life.  I pray that I will be an encouragement to her just as she has reminded me that regardless of where I have come from, I know that I will end up sitting at Your right hand.  Amen!

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That Hill

11889706_716612705109961_2514489217798177589_nKristy Horine:  I meet Kristy by happenstance.  Kristy is the facilitator of a writing group that meets monthly in Lexington, Ky.  I found out about this group by way of a friend who sent me information on a training that was scheduled at the church where the meetings take place.  After looking into the training, I found out about the group and decided to join in.  As I sit in group listening to Kristy interact with the other group members and watch her reactions to words and feelings of others, I am awe struck by the empathy that she so genuinely shows.  She is a true gentle spirit filled with Jesus.  Since that encounter we have communicated some through email and she has encouraged me in my writings.  Through following her on Facebook, I was pushed to introduce you to her.  You will find a link to Kristy’s blog at the bottom of this post.  I hope you enjoy getting to know her a bit and will continue to engage with her gentleness.

It was that hill. Always that hill.

The entire team dreaded it, so at least I wasn’t alone. That’s one thing about suffering, or rejoicing, or living — if you do it with others, the burden isn’t so great.

I didn’t know about that hill when I first started running in junior high – circa mid-80s. All I knew back then was that I sort of liked to run in the fields on the farm. I also knew my Daddy seemed happy that I sort of liked to run. Looking back, it was the Daddy part that probably made me join the team, and it was the Daddy part that probably kept me there.

The longer I stayed on the team, the more complex the workouts became, the greater the race distance, the harder the courses. In cross-country, each runner competes for an individual score, and a team score. Each runner must do the work for the greater good of the team, as the team scores get everyone to state.

State rewarded us with that hill.

Each year, in the time of the Fall that pretended it was winter, we’d pack into vans and cars and trucks and head to Frankfort. Our scores earned our way there during the season and we joined hundreds of other runners bundled in warmups and toboggans and gloves in the low Kentucky River country cradled in a crisp fog. Our breath made personal clouds and our shoes crunched on grass. Good running weather.

Early out, and together, we walked the entire 3.1 mile course. We were thankful for the wisdom of the walk. We learned the narrow and the wide of the course, the hidden ankle-twisting holes, the tree roots that snaked above the ground, the mud and the grass, the places to conserve, the places to run wide open.

And the inclines. That hill.

By my senior year, we had run the state course five times. Even though we knew the course and dreaded it, still we walked it.

My dad walked it, too.IMG_0308

He had no part of the coaching staff. He wasn’t one of those fathers who pushed and demanded sports excellence at every single event. He’s my dad. He was just there.

He was there in the pre-dawn darkness, running with me on my childhood’s country lane. He was there at community 5k events – always beating my time, then turning back to make sure I didn’t lack encouragement. He was there at our team meets in rain, shine, snow. He was there to encourage and train with me in the off-season. And he was there at that hill.

You see, when my dad walked the course, he sought out the span that he knew would test my weakness, my endurance, my will. He knew because he knew me. Without fail, Daddy stood at the top of that hill, hands cupped around his mouth, ball cap pulled low over his eyes.

“Let’s go!” he cheered.

And I went.

“Dig deep!” he hollered.

And I did.

Race after race, I finished. Never first, mind you, but rarely last.

Somehow, he managed to make it to the finish line to join my mom who was already cheering me toward the end.

Because he was there at that hill, I couldn’t not get up it. Because he was there at the finish line, urging me to find that something I thought I had already run out, I couldn’t not cross it.

This is what I think of when I think of my God Journey because here is what I know:

Jesus was on another hill once, and He didn’t just hard-scrabble up it, He triumphed over it. Because He ran that race so well, He already knows every narrow, every wide, every hidden hole, every tripping tree root, every place to run wide open, and the agony of every hill.  As we journey together, He stands there at the top and He knows the difficulty, the pain, my weakness, my struggle, and He is my strength.

He cups his hands around his mouth, the crown of glory resting on His brow.

“Let’s go!” He says.

And I go.

“Dig deep!” He says.

And I do.

That’s it. Sometimes, I slow from a run to a walk. Sometimes, other runners cut me off. Sometimes, I sprint and catch my second wind. Sometimes I just want to walk off the course.

But I can’t not run.

And I can’t not finish.

Because He’s there.

The victor of all those hills.

Kristy’s Blog – “Write One Real Life”

Lord, I praise you and your ever present leading in my life.  I thank you for bringing others into my life that draw me closer to you.  I pray that you will continue to bless this budding friendship.  I ask you to be with Kristy, wrap your arms around her and bring others into her life where she can share her love for you.  I thank you for loving me enough.  Amen!

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Life with a Broken Heart

Denise Bryant:  When you’re not even looking God puts people in your life that you just know will be a blessing to you.  And He did just that when He placed Denise in mine. We both ended up attending a meeting and sat next to each other, not by accident.  I don’t know her well at all at this time but I know that God has big plans for our friendship.  Denise is the leader of our local Community Bible Study, better known as CBS.  This group of women go through 1 book thoroughly each year.  The knowledge that she must have tucked away in her head.  I can’t wait to have a chance to dig through it.   Not only is she a blessing to me but she has been a blessing to so many and will continue that trend.  I’m so glad to be able to share her heart with  you.

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It was a blustery snow flurrying November day in 1959 when I entered this world.  I was blessed to be born into a loving Christian family.  As an infant my parents dedicated themselves to bring me up to know Jesus.  Attending church was a regular part of our week.  We rarely missed a service. After 3 ½ years I was joined by my sister and our family was complete.

When I was four we moved to another town, where finding a church home was high on my parents’ priority list.  After attending a couple of different churches we settled into one that became our church home.  In this church the foundation of scripture was laid. Revivals were a big part of our lives and in the fall of 1969 before our fall revival I was part of a class that was teaching the steps of salvation.  I was an avid student but had no real direction when the revival began to make that decision.  But on Thursday night when the invitation was given my heart was pounding so hard inside my chest, there was nothing else I could do except to step out into that aisle and walk to the front to proclaim Jesus as my Lord and follow Him into baptism. The next day at school I was sure that everyone had to know what this 9 year old girl had done the night before.  I was so free.  I felt like I was walking on air.

My life continued on this same path. But the teaching that I was presented with was more about legalism and works than about grace.  Once again our family was to move.  This move was only 20 miles away, but the changes were so much greater than the distance.  Yet Jesus was still my rock.  He was the cornerstone to everything that I did.  I was in high school now and my world was still rather small.  When challenges came I was secure enough to say no, because of the love and confidence that I had at home.  I confess I was easily frustrated and confused why so many of my classmates struggled and were so concerned about fitting in.  My naiveté blinded me to the fact that my home life was more the exception than the norm, leaving me judgmental of my fellow students’ choices.

College time came and I chose to attend the University of Kentucky, living at home and commuting.  My judgmental attitude followed me there.  It did serve to keep me out of trouble, because I had my checklist of do’s and don’ts and my fear of disappointing my parents was always in the back of my mind.

Throughout college I was active in Christian Student Fellowship and God so graciously opened my eyes to the gift I had been given growing up with parents that not only loved me but loved Jesus even more.  It was in these years He began to show me how harsh my judgments of others were.  But it was not enough to turn my heart around.

I had met my future husband, John, at the end of my senior year in high school.  We began dating at the end of that summer only to find that our focus for life, with God at the center, was completely different.  After about 3 months we went our separate ways.  For nearly 4 years we continued to run into each other at functions, feeling drawn together but knowing our lives were on two different courses.  During my last year of college, John came to me and told me that God had been chasing him and that he was seeking and searching for answers.  It still wasn’t time for us to return to dating.  He again disappeared from my life for about 9 months.  This return made it evident that God was the center of his life and within a month we were engaged.  Thirteen months later we were married.  God began using John to show me about freedom and what that should look like in my life.  I was still holding on to the judgment.  This different understanding of God’s love caused a few ripples in our relationship but we just kept moving forward.

Four years into our marriage we were surprised to find out we were going to be parents.  It definitely wasn’t our planned timing but we were excited.  In August 1986, we became parents to our precious baby boy, Jonathan.  Life really changed, and I loved being a mom.  It was the greatest!  I needed to work outside the home but after a few months we decided that the sacrifice was worth it for me to stay home.  Then in April 1991, Jonathan was joined with a baby sister, Anna.  Our life was complete.  We began homeschooling that fall and life was very hectic but blessed.  Church and family were the center of our lives.  Our goals were to teach our children about Jesus and to instill in them a love for God above all else.  But as crazy as it sounds, for the first time in my life I began to doubt.  I began to ask myself did I really believe all that I was teaching my children.  Did I really want them to see life as I had always seen it?  I was still living in a very legalistic mindset that was keeping me in a failure mode.  I couldn’t live up to my own expectations.  I was drowning in the failures.  John was trying to show me the glories of grace, but I couldn’t really embrace it.

One Sunday in our church one of the men talked about having a broken and contrite heart.  Just as when I was 9 years old my heart was pounding in my chest.  He asked if there was anyone there that wanted to pray for this broken and contrite heart to come forward and he would pray with us.  There were several that went forward and I was one of them.   Little did I know what this would mean?  Our lives changed drastically in the months and years to follow.

Tragedy seemed to come at us faster than we could process it.  My sister miscarried.  My father had a heart attack followed by open heart surgery.  My mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 58.  John was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease and three months later my daughter, Anna and I were run over by our conversion van.  This all happened in less than two years.  God was good in the midst of it all.  My dad survived to live 17 more years, my sister became pregnant with twins, my mother-in-law developed a relationship with Jesus and John was healed.  Anna and I survived with few injures and I began to see my need for Jesus more than ever before.  But 7 months from that accident the children and I were traveling to church and I lost control of the van and drove into an embankment.  Again we survive with little physical damage, but now we were dealing with more emotional damage, for that same day at almost that same time a friend of ours was in a similar accident and she didn’t survive.  Survivors’ guilt became my best friend along with depression as I struggled to see my purpose in life.

I tried to battle the depression alone.  I had Jesus so why should I need any other help.  Finally I recognized that I couldn’t do it alone and sought counseling.  I went with a great deal of anger but life improved.  The improvement was short lived only to spiral down further the next time.  This cycle continued for several years until finally after Christmas one year I told John I was empty and numb.  I returned to the counselor and this time she had a different approach.  Medication was prescribed along with reading through the gospels as if I was there with Jesus and He was talking directly to me.  The scriptures became more than a rule book, now they became a love letter to me, personally.  I could hear Jesus speaking my name and began to understand His grace for me and my need for it.

The years that have followed have continued to open my eyes to His great love for me, but there are still struggles. God has given me a purpose beyond my dreams when called to me to teach His word to women and children weekly through the ministry of Community Bible Study in Winchester for the last 8 years.  What a joy to be used in this way!  John and I celebrated 35 years of marriage and this past year God blessed us with the gift of a grandson.  I pray to always desire a broken and contrite heart for with it comes the blessings of thanksgiving and the knowledge of my great need for Jesus.

To truimph over tragedy, is only done with God.  I thank you Lord for sending Denise to give me that reminder.  Amen!

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One of Imperfection

Becky Winburn……. That is a mouth full and for those who know her, you understand what I mean.  She is as determined in love as she is in life.  She gives with her full heart and gives without question.  She loves people and cares beyond but is okay just being okay.  No frills or pretension is coming from this girl.  She’s a down to earth as I know.  I moved to KY, new home, new state, new job and no “friends” and she was my first.  The first week I started my new job she befriended me and it’s been a blessing ever sense.  If you don’t know her, you should!

20170529_113042Like others who have told their stories I also was born into a Christian family. I was born Becky Sue Sams to Danny and Cecilia Sams and a big sister.  Although the nurse at the hospital insisted my mother could not name me Becky because it was a nickname my mother was victorious and I am Becky.  I was brought home to a small white frame house that sat just yards from the four mile marker on Muddy Creek Rd.  It was a safe haven and I was surrounded by Christian family and friends. My first memories of church were when we attended Antioch Christian church just a short distance from here. I loved bible school, Sunday school and Jesus at a very young age. When I was about nine we started attending church at Mt Olive Baptist down on Jackson Ferry. I remember having vacation bible school classes in a picnic shelter in the back. During that time was when I felt the call and gave my heart to Jesus Christ. I was baptized in the creek under the second bridge on White Conkright Rd., the one that is between where the old Allansville building stood and the house where Gilbert Wilder lived. My life was normal. Dana and I went to the pool and played outside all day in the summer and rode sleds and built snowmen and snowforts with our cousins in the winter. We attended church Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday nights. My favorite thing of all to do though was to sit at my grandparent’s store that was directly across from our house and listen and watch. When I was twelve my dad bought a farm on Dry Fork Rd. Around that same time was when we started attending church here.  At first the move to the farm was not much of a change. We were still just a short distance from where we had lived and my grandparent’s store was within walking distance. My other set of grandparent’s moved into a trailer on the farm. Life was good. Well that is until my dad started raising burley. We had always had a garden and mom canned. Shelling peas and lima beans and breaking green beans seemed like work. Suddenly I found out compared to raising tobacco that that had been child’s play. We had a few cattle and two pigs, cut and burned cedars but nothing was work like the tobacco. That is where I learned hard work. I tell people that all that hard work and fresh air is what has me so hardy. As the song goes I was country when country wasn’t cool. Then oh my then, I became a teenager. I never missed church and truly loved the Lord with all my heart. I was a fairly obedient child, well at least I think I was, but my parent’s may disagree. I was involved in Sunday School, Acteens, I sang in church accompanied by my uncle Jimmy and many times sang with my cousin Rhonda Slucher. I read the missionary moments every Sunday morning at the beginning of the service, it was just a paragraph or so about one of our missionary families. I graduated from high school at sixteen. This would be where my story becomes one of imperfection. Like the scripture says…the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. That summer at sixteen I helped teach my first VBS class with my mom. The five year old class, and boy were they ever entertaining. But little did I or anyone else know that long before MTV made the show “Sixteen and Pregnant” so popular I was in fact sixteen and pregnant. I started college that fall and on September 3 1983 I walked down the aisle in this very church as a child bride and married my high school sweetheart and became Becky Winburn. I had many imperfections in my life to this point but never one that would soon become so public. So it was that I delivered by c-section a daughter Whittney Dawn Winburn on January 6 1984.  She had delivery complications and her lungs collapsed and she had multi system organ failure. She was taken to UK hospital and after 21 hours of struggle she just couldn’t fight any longer. She died January 7 1984. My world stopped.We had no medical insurance and my husband and I were faced with a mound of debt that was shadowed by a mountain of grief. If my church family had been disappointed in me for getting pregnant before marriage none of it showed. They gave money to help pay the medical bills, they purchased Gideon bibles in her memory, they sent me a sunshine box so that I would feel their love for me. I clung to God like never before in my life. Even in such a dark time my farm girl raising kicked in and I picked myself up and moved forward. There simply was no other choice. I found strength in King David’s words 2 Samuel 12:20-2320 Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshiped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.

21 Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.

22 And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live?

23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

So like King David I picked myself up knowing that one glad morning when this life is over I will again see my precious Whittney. I found a job, finished college and after more than two years after her death, I was pregnant again. Three would come over the course of the next seven years. Kellen, Coleton and Ashton. Healthy, happy, handsome and beautiful. I would get up on Sunday’s and fight the fight, find the lost shoes, or other lost clothing and  get them all three dressed and ready and we would make our way to Allansville for  Sunday School and church. Somewhere in those crazy years between Coleton and Ashton I began teaching Sunday School for 1-3 and 4-6 grades. Over the years and in spite of my imperfections I have taught SS, VBS, children’s church, mission friends, been in church plays and so on. As life would have it the days turned to weeks turned to months turned to years and the babies grew up. Through fevers, runny noses, three broken arms, a broken ankle, a broken thumb, a couple of cases of pneumonia, numerous broken hearts and one gunshot wound, any questions on this can be directed to Coleton, they were raised. My sons have given me two beautiful daughter in laws one of which is named Whitney. It is amazing how God works. He has given me two Whitney Winburn’s to love. My other daughter in law Anna allowed my son Kellen to give their first born daughter his older sister’s middle name, so she is Kailei DawnWinburn. She is one of four amazing grandbabies, there is Grayson, Mckenna and Easton. They are gifts that I could not even dream of in my younger days. He has blessed me with a front seat to see what a great mother my own daughter Ashton has become. God has been faithful even in my imperfection. And as life would have it another very public imperfection was on the way. After 29 years my marriage failed. I gave my resignation as a Sunday school teacher and continued to come and sit quietly in the back row. The week that the divorce was in the local paper I noticed during the time of fellowship there were those who generally don’t make it back to where I sit had made their way to the back corner  just to shake my hand and ask how I was doing, never mentioning that they knew a thing. Although I felt unworthy and told him as much a very persistant preacher by the name of Ray Coates continually asked me to help with the children’s ministries again. So last summer I relented and accepted a position as a VBS teacher. Although attendance was low I realized how much I had missed teaching. When fall came around he ambushed me with reasons I should teach a Sunday school class again and I accepted. Yes as I said my story is one of imperfection but even more than that it is a story of grace and mercy extended to me by my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. My story can be summed up in this one scripture from Romans 3:23-24…. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. So if someone asked me if God can use imperfect people to expand his kingdom I would first have to reference scriptural people, King David, Jonah, Moses and Paul come to mind. Then I would say that these walls that stand to each side of us would still only be mortar and brick, their would be no roof and the steeple would not be set in place for all to see who this building belongs to if not for imperfect people. There would be no hymns in the hymnals, no people in the pews to sing those missing hymns, without imperfect people the choir loft would be empty and collecting dust and cob webs and there would be no need for the baptistery that sits behind me. Yes I would have to say God can use imperfect people to do His will. I hope my story can encourage someone who thinks they are too imperfect, or sinful, or unworthy or bad for God to use. When we repent and believe all of our stories of imperfection can become this story from II Timothy 4:7-8 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness. Thank you Lord for the reminder of your goodness through friendships. Amen!

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He leaves the leaves on

Amy Gilbert:  My friend Amy!  We have a story of our friendship all of it’s own.  Good times, bad times, emotional times, sweet times and supportive times.  But they were all lead by our God and He is the master of relationships.  I’ve been blessed to have her in my life.   I’ve seen her when she felt “on top of the world” and I’ve seen here when she felt like “she was run over by a truck”, very different emotions but she always trusted in the Lord.  She may not have always been able to see clearly his picture for her life but she trusted.

11692776_10205697765456055_2688964592756907457_nI was born in Jackson, Tennessee in March of 1963 to Harold and Jeaneen Lile. My mom and dad both graduated from the University of Tennessee Martin. My mom was the first four year cheerleader and my dad was the first four year football player. They were the “Barn Warming” King and Queen. I have one sister and two brothers. We moved from Tennessee to Raleigh, North Carolina in 1971 when I was in 2nd grade. I remember it being a little hard getting used to a new place and new friends.  We were excited to be a part of our new church in Raleigh. I loved to sing, had wonderful Sunday school teachers, and had examples of people who loved God. My dad was one of the song leaders. I still love to hear him sing. (He’s 83 and doing well). We had a very active campus ministry at North Carolina State University and my mom made many meals for the college students. We usually were feeding several every Sunday after church.532799_10155306472736454_6969345458015249525_n

At a pretty young age, I faced several deaths in my life. My grandfather died when I was five. Shortly after we moved to North Carolina, my Uncle, who was only 8 years older than me, committed suicide. My parents were open with us about it, for which I am thankful. In second grade, my best friend from church died after being hit by a car. I know that experiencing these losses at such a young age led me to be closer to God. At the age of 11, I became a Christian. I loved God and loved His word. I understood simply His love for me, my need for Him.

We had a close youth group at church. We had Bible studies that we invited friends to. My junior year, a friend named Tracy came with me. We studied the Bible together and she became a Christian. At that time in North Carolina, 16 year olds could drive school busses. Two weeks after she had become a Christian, she was in an accident with a school bus that ran a red light and died. At that time I had written my prayers. I had prayed over and over that she would be urgent. I see the Holy Spirit’s leading in our prayers. She was seventeen years old. Why would I pray for urgency? It was a reflective and amazing time for me in my relationship with God.

My senior year of High School I was able to be in a program where I went to High School in the morning and went to NCSU in the afternoon. I was ready to be done with High School and been accepted at UNC-G. That year I met a new friend, Virginia. She was from Tennessee and her older sister was going to college in Raleigh. She was a year ahead of me in school. Her senior year in High School she had been diagnosed with lymphoma. She was having treatments at NIH in Bethesda Maryland, but living in Raleigh between treatments. I met her and her family at church. We became very close. Her parents would fly me to Maryland to be with her during her treatments. I would stay in the hospital room with her. We’d stay up late, watch movies, eat “fun” snacks….trying to forget we were in the hospital. She loved God and relied on Him. What an amazing time, witnessing someone depending on God through something so difficult. Virginia was in and out of treatment for about 8 years. Virginia and her mom shared Jesus with the nurses and the doctors. Several became Christians.

I went away to college in the fall of 1981 to Greensboro. I was a clothing and textiles major in the home economics department. We had a close college group from church. We had Friday night devotionals that were so meaningful. We had a “fellowship hall” that was so wonderful to sing in.  I met my now ex-husband in the college group at church. He joined the Navy in the spring of 1983 and we were married in December 0f 1983. We lived in Florida, New York and South Carolina. In each place, there was a body of believers that were my family. In Florida we lived in an apartment across the street from the church. The church secretary, Imogene, took us in. When we moved to New York, I remember some people telling me (a southerner) that I might not survive the winter. Clyde and Lois from church told me I’d be fine. They took us in and had us over often. She taught me how to bake bread and always had time to talk.

In December of 1986, I was a “very pregnant” matron of honor in my friend, Virginia’s wedding. She had met Dan, they had dated, and gotten engaged. She then relapsed with her cancer. They decided to go ahead and have the wedding before she started chemo. She was a beautiful bride, wearing her mother’s gown. After her wedding, I went into preterm labor and was on bedrest until my first son, Ernie, was born in January of 1987. He’s 30 now.

Virginia had a bone marrow transplant in the fall of 1987. She died in January of 1988. Her funeral and the celebration of her life is something I will always remember!!

I had my second son, Nick, in October of 1988 after several month of bedrest and medication due to preterm labor. He was six weeks early and in the neonatal intensive care at the Medical University of SC. It was such a hard time. So many questions. There was a lot of fear. There were many prayers. The church there was so supportive. Another navy wife from church took care of Ernie everyday while we were at the hospital. Nick is 28 now, strong and healthy. We got out of the Navy in 1989 and moved back to New York. I had my third son, Luke, in March of 1990 after three months of bedrest due to preterm labor. Again, without the church, we could not have made it. Everyday someone from church would come and take care of Ernie and Nick, so I could rest.  The church where we attended were such an example of loving and caring for everyone. They loved God and in that love served others.

We moved back to North Carolina in 1997 to be near family. It was great to be with old friends and meet new ones. I met Rhonda and her family in a small family group at church. Our boys met then and are still friends. I can’t believe I have been back in Greensboro for twenty years! In those years, I have grown deeper and deeper in my love and need for God. Through divorce, the death of my mom and many others struggles, I have seen God’s guidance and provision in so many ways. He has provided such healing in my life. Through difficulties, He has taught me that He is my stronghold. He has also encouraged me with this verse: “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4. I have been able work with a support group for women during the past 9 years and have seen God’s healing and His amazing comfort. He has brought many people into my life that have encouraged me and challenged me in my walk as a follower of Christ.

This has been a challenge to write. I feel like I have meandered through my story. It is hard to reflect and look back, but as I do, I am so thankful for this journey I have had with Him. One more thought…

Over the past few years, I started hiking. One of my favorite places to hike is Hanging Rock in Danbury, NC. It’s not too long of hike, about 2.6 miles to the top and back. It gets pretty steep at the end. I had hiked it several time during the spring and summer. It is worth the climb to get to the great view at the top. One year I hiked it in November. It seemed so different. I could not figure out why. I could see the top; it seemed so far and so high. I knew I had done it before many times, but it seemed out of reach. I finally figured it out. There were no leaves on the trees. I could see just how far I had to go and it seemed too far. I’ve learned that God leaves the leaves on. In my life, if I could have looked ahead, and seen all that was ahead, it would have been too far, too hard. I am thankful He leaves the leaves on. Today, I walk with Him. He is faithful. He is the same, always there. He goes before me, He goes behind.

Lord, thank you for putting her in my life. It’s not always been easy but you knew what you were doing.  Please wrap your loving arms tightly around her and keep her strong. Amen.

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Perfectly Imperfect

15977454_10154554872702284_5135947803223755301_nPatti Krank: What a blessing she is to me.  I’ve seen her once in person, feed her once at my home, heard her story in person once and intend on visiting her at her home at least once.  But I know that God brought us together forever friends.  Those around her are truly blessed by her love for her Lord, her humbleness and open brokenness. She walks daily open to His leading and willing to speak frankly about life.  I have been blessed by her and I know you will be too.

Look at all the smiling faces, lined up in wooden pews.  And there she sits among them, safe in her obscurity. 

1She’s learned well, that love is most easily lavished upon those who look good, who are successful, who are positive and happy, who follow the rules.  And so, she plays the role. 

But God sees her brokenness.  He knows her deep desire for love and acceptance.  But happiness comes through relationship, and real relationship means being honest and willing to share our real selves.  Our perfectly imperfect selves.

Early in childhood I was stricken with an infirmity called perfectionism.  Whether it was passed down from my carrier parents, fostered by the do’s and don’ts teachings of my church, or simply my own bent toward seeing things in black and white, who knows?  Maybe all three played a part in my striving to live up to my family nickname, Perfect Patti.

The youngest child, quiet and sweet-natured, no one could foresee anything but good from me.  I tried to live up to their expectations.  After accepting Jesus, around the age of 7 or so, I tried hard to do things right. But, even as a child, I never felt like my good was good enough.  My relationship with Jesus was more about what a Christian should do than it was about intimate friendship.

All of us are created for and by God, and all of us have within us a deep need for relationship.  My own little girl heart was hungry for love and acceptance.  When the teen years came I realized that the shy girl within me was able to come out of her shell and could make the cool kids laugh when she drank a little.  She was regarded as “far out” by another crowd when they learned that she would sample their offerings of contraband.  She also learned that she could finally receive the “love” she longed for when she gave herself away.  And so she did.  Body, soul, and spirit.  Trouble was,[bctt tweet=” The love I chased after never seemed to last and ultimately left me feeling rejected and alone.” username=””]

Even in the midst of my most rebellious days God never ceased His pursuit of me and He stayed by my side me in every dark place I journeyed.  As the downward spiral continued, my shame grew and my self value plummeted.  These feelings are what caused my wildest days to be short-lived, and as a young adult I returned to church and dutiful service to God.

Service mind you, not relationship.

I was happy to be back in church because I liked living in the light much better than in darkness, and being in church made me feel better inside, except for . . . the shame that lingered.
Not enough!

Less than!

Failure!

Dirty!

Stupid!

These were some of the names that screamed inside my head.  Names that my enemy, the devil, made sure I heard loud and clear.  He does that you know.  When we try to get right with God he comes immediately to discount our positional freedom in Christ, and he makes every attempt to derail us from the purpose God has for our lives.

2I worked hard to make up for my past but there was no joy in the striving.  I dutifully said, “Yes,” to every request made of me, especially by the Pastor, whose approval I desired.  But my service became burdensome.  Where was the freedom the Bible talked about?  Where was the joy of the Lord?

Then came another time of falling away.  My personal life was shaken by divorce.  My church life was ripped in shreds when I was dis-fellowshipped.  Wounded, I walked away from church for many years.  I didn’t act out in rebellion the way I had as a teen and young adult, but I was very angry at the church, and hurt beyond words.

When I married to my current husband, I forgot my pain for awhile in the euphoria of new love.  Until real life returned and the bliss waned.  Over the years came more of the hard things of life (because life can be quite nasty you know).  It was a desperate need for God that led my husband and myself to finally return to church.  Of course I knew that God wasn’t to be found in a church building, but I also knew that following Jesus was harder without other believers and without good Bible teaching.
You’d think this would be the end of my struggle yet still . . . I felt “different” from everyone else in church.  With eyes deceived by lies, I looked around and saw all the “beautiful people” and knew that I was not one of them.

This was my thinking process:  I believed that church people would accept a total sinner off the street who’d sinned wildly before being saved, because they didn’t know any better.  But me?  I was a deliberate sinner.  A church girl gone bad.  I was certain that if people knew the sins I’d committed they wouldn’t like me.  So I held on to my secrets, and vowed to never tell a soul.

Except for God.  Though I might’ve wished God wasn’t all knowing so I could get away without confessing, I was raised in church and I knew His attributes.  In rededicating my life to Jesus I confessed my sins and asked for forgiveness, and accepted His freely given grace toward me.

However, grace and forgiveness of self was not so forthcoming.

Looking back I realize that I must have thought I was pretty special, not to accept that Jesus’ precious blood was enough to cover my deepest, darkest sins!   Did I really believe that God’s own Son was enough for others but not for me?

But oh, the shame!  How does a church girl fall so far when she knew better all along?  In my times of falling away I had God’s Spirit was constantly convicting me of right and wrong, and yet . . . I deliberately chose sin.

Over time, the spirit of shame I carried sought to destroy me.  I’d broken every single one of God’s commandments, including murder.  This, to me, was the worst.  My internal pain grew deeper and deeper, until I myself wanted to die.  A spirit of death hung over me because of an abortion I’d had at the age of 17.

Then came the time when my burden was too great to bear any longer and, at my husband’s insistence, I sought the help I needed.  At the end of myself, I admitted that my way of coping with my past wasn’t working, and I finally turned everything over to God.  That began my healing journey (one that I am still on by the way, because it is a life-long process) and the beginning of freedom.

[bctt tweet=”Freedom isn’t found in dark and hidden places. Freedom is found when we step into the Light.” username=””]

I tell the story over and over of how my confession to God brought forgiveness of sins (I John 1:9), but it was my confession to others that really initiated the healing (James 5:16).  It was so good to come clean and find love and acceptance from my “beautiful” brothers and sisters (Proverbs 28:13).  They liked me.  They really liked me . . . just as I was.

Authenticity.  Becoming honest about my past saved me and, to my surprise, has given me the opportunity to not only share my story, but also hear from others about their own deeply held secrets.  Who knew that God would one day use my pain for the good of others?
3God has a purpose for each of us before we are even a gleam in our earthly father’s eyes.  The enemy also has a purpose – to steal, kill, and destroy.  His plan is to shipwreck our faith and to separate us from our full destiny in Christ Jesus.

Since it is my purpose to encourage others in their faith and freedom, I can’t help but end my testimony without asking you if you are one of those people sitting in the pews pretending?  All of us have brokenness when we come to Christ.  Some have an immediate sense of freedom when they are saved.  But many in church are still walking in brokenness like I was.

It can be hard and embarrassing to face the things that cause us pain, but it is more painful, in the end, to keep them buried.  When we allow God to go to the root of the pain He promises to heal, set free, and deliver us . . . and there is nothing better than walking in the fullness of His Spirit and in power.  Please don’t let fear keep you from fulfilling His glorious purpose for YOU.

Blessings dear ones,

Perfectly Imperfect Patti

In case you’re interested you can read more about my Abortion Story here.  Or The Day the Church Asked for my Forgiveness here.  Or all about Forgiving Yourself here.  Or you can see a short Vimeo of Our (hubby’s and my) Story here. 😉

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We have beauty in imperfection.  Amen!

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Life on the Edge

29901Janet Townsend: My Friend!  She is a blessing.  She is gentle yet strong.  She amazes me with her knowledge of the word and is not fearful to share it.  I’ve seen her struggle more than once and I’ve seen her pick herself up and dust herself off.  People have tried to break her but she is unbreakable because she knows where her strength comes from. She trusts in her Lord with all her might and all her strength.

Whenever I hear the Stevie Nicks’ song Edge of Seventeen, I still crank up my radio and sing right along with it just like the white winged dove, signs a song sounds likes she’s signing.  Oh that song takes be back to being 17 again, a time when I had my life ahead of me.  I would ask myself, what would I be when I grew older?  Who would I marry? How many children would I be blessed with?  Would I be rich? Would I be happy? Would I travel the world or stay close to home?  Endless possibilities and nothing to hold me back.  One question I did not have to ask myself, would God be a part of my life?

As a young child, my parents would take my brother and me to church.  We didn’t attend regularly, but I embraced the lessons I learned in Sunday School about how much Jesus loved me and that I was a child of a King.  I truly felt the presence of God in my life and never really questioned His love for me even at a young age.  When I was seven years old, I was diagnosed with a severe case of Rheumatic Fever.  It took several months before the doctors were able to diagnose my condition correctly and begin an effective treatment.  I was in and out of the hospital so many times that all the nurses knew me by name and would recognize me immediately when I was admitted in the hospital.  I could see the look of sadness on their faces when they rolled me into hospital room yet again.  I had so many intravenous injections in my hips, they had to start giving them to me in my legs.  I was in constant pain and it didn’t seem like my tears would ever stop flowing.  I watched the worried looks on my parents faces when nothing that the doctors prescribed would help.  I remember the agony of not being able to walk due to my joints being so stiff and swollen, my parents would have to carry me from my bed to the bathroom where I would soak in a hot bath just to get some relief.  The pastor, lay members, and my sweet, sweet Sunday School teacher from the church we attended occasionally – Church of the Nazarene – visited the hospital and our home to pray with me.  Everyone knew that I was truly sick and wasn’t quite certain what to do about it.  But even during the midst of my pain and illness, I felt God’s presence and I knew I was in His hands.

My medical experience as a child helped me to appreciate Matthew 18:4 (NLT).  So anyone who becomes as humble as the little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.  I have always tried to live a life of true humility even at a young age.  As I grew older, we did begin attending church on a consistent basis.  At 12 years of age, I was baptized in a creek next to a river bank.  I  still remember that day as if it were yesterday – the water was so cold and the sun was warm.  My family was there and my mother was so happy.  What a joyful time for me.  It was a reaffirmation that God was still present and real in my life.

As I grew older, I drifted away from the church.  In my mid-twenties, after a short lived marriage, I felt the desire to get back into the church and a life of service.  I started working at a small Methodist Church and then went on to work for a larger Methodist Church and a Christian College.  While working at the larger church, I met an associate pastor.  Three years later we were married.   He had two pre-teen children, so I instantly became a mother and a pastor’s wife.   One of my favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 29:11(NIV) For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to give you hope and a future.  I felt that this was God’s direction in my life and I was living out His purpose.  Our ministry required us to move every three to four years.  It was becoming increasingly hard for me to stay close to God and I was losing the sense that I was living in His purpose.  I am certain that sounds surprising, but true, especially being part of a ministry team with my husband.  The place where you think you could easily find God, the church, I could not find Him there.  My life became consumed with church meetings, women’s Bible studies, raising two children, working a full time job to help make ends meet, and endless demands from the church.  It became too much and my desire for humility was replaced with anger and disappointment.  Unfortunately, I turned from God and turned to alcohol.  The child like faith that I once embraced was gone.  I struggled with my addiction for about ten years.  Finally I conceded I needed help. After many years of feeling abandoned by God, I found him in the most surprising place – AA.  Just like the day of my baptism, I could feel the warmth of God’s presence in my life again.  Even my child like faith returned and because what God had done for me, I was once again embracing a desire for a humble spirit.

A few years later I was faced with another personal heartbreak.  After close to 25 years of marriage, my husband essentially invited me to leave our marriage informing me he was no longer happy and felt I would be happier returning to Kentucky to be closer to my family, we were living in Destin, Florida at that time.   I accepted his invitation and packed up everything that I could get into my car and returned to Kentucky.  Although this pain was different than what I experienced as a child, the tears flowed with the same intensity nonetheless.  Instead of getting angry, I tried everything within me to remain humble and keep my childlike faith.  1 Peter 5: 6 & 7 NLT says So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time He will lift you up in honor.  Give all of your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.  God brought me through some dark, dark days.  And He took care of me; every need –  physical, emotional, and especially spiritual He met with great swiftness and clarity.  I knew I was in His hands and He would see me through.

As the days go by like a strand in the wind is the web that is my own, I begin again as the song goes.  I am now on the edge of 56.  My friends have told me that turning 56 is much harder than turning 55.  You are now closer to 60 than to 50 they say.  Most of the questions I asked myself when I was 17 have been answered.  Yes, I would get married, but divorce after 25 years.  I have no biological children but helped raise two step children like they were my own as well as being the best grandmother I could to three beautiful grandchildren.  I am certainly not rich monetarily, but definitely happy.   I have had the privilege to travel domestically and internationally.    The question that remains what will I be? I find myself moving in a different direction professionally.  No longer being part of a ministry team or parenting team, I am now asking myself what will I do with my life?  I have decided to embark on a Master’s Degree in Ethical Leadership.  My heart is leading me to focus on women in leadership and how women relate to one another in the workplace.  After years of working professionally in Human Resources and seeing the struggles, and enduring a few of my own, that women have in the workplace, I believe God is calling me to use my gifts, skills, and now my education to make a difference for women who are coming behind me that need a voice.  With God’s help, I want to be that voice.  I must be honest, I am so scared striking out in a new direction especially during this phase of my life.  Most people tell me to play it safe, get that job that will sustain you and live a quiet, comfortable life until you retire and then just have fun.  I don’t believe God brought me through a life threatening illness as a child, alcohol addiction and recovery, a painful divorce, and professional disappointments to play it safe.  He is calling me to do something more, something bigger with my life.  Throughout the Bible, God uses His people at every phase of life:  David as a child then Israel’s anointed King as an adult, Sarah’s birth of Isaac at a later age, and Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt at 80 years old.  Now, I believe that God is using me to live out His purpose, the building up and empowerment of women.

Let me end by saying, as much as I enjoy listening to the songs of my youth and getting that rush of nostalgia, it has always been scripture, prayer and my daily quiet time with the Lord that sustains me.  As I start this new phase of my life I ask for your prayers.  Pray that I don’t grow weary and can stay the course that God has put me on.  God has put a new song in my heart, the lyrics have yet to be written, and the melody is a small note in my mind, but I am confident this song will blare for God as He walks with me as I live my life on the edge for His glory.

Thank you Lord for placing women like Janet in my life.  Amen!

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